NEWTON, Iowa – Minutes after some of his crew workers shouted angrily about a confusing finish to the Iowa Corn 300, Robert Wickens received their hugs and handshakes in appreciation of his effort.
Wickens, who until June 28 hadn’t seen Iowa Speedway’s daunting 0.894-mile oval, was in line for a podium finish Sunday before a late pit stop dropped him from third to fifth. It was his fifth top-five finish this season, moving him from seventh place in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings into sixth, tied in points with with Graham Rahal.
Afterward, though, Wickens wasn’t pleased about what might have been.
“I’m just really getting sick of saying ‘would’ve, could’ve,’” Wickens said after he climbed from the car and talked to his strategist, team manager Piers Phillips. “There have been so many races this season where we could have been on the podium, and we don’t. It’s just frustrating. You go year by year and race by race, and you’re just trying to score points. But when you put yourself in good positions all the time and you come out on the worst end? I’m just getting tired of it.”
Wickens had moved into third place behind Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden on Lap 281 of the 300-lap race before a caution for an incident involving Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato brought a yellow flag with seven laps remaining.
The pits opened on Lap 297, so Wickens – with his crew expecting a late restart – followed Newgarden into the pits. The race finished under caution because it took longer than expected to clean up debris from the incident and there wasn't enough time to reorder the cars as mandated by INDYCAR rules in the final 15 laps of a race, so pitting cost Newgarden, who finished fourth, and Wickens podium finishes.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Wickens said amid the confusion immediately after the race. “I saw that there were only (three) laps to go and then we pit for tires. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
Spencer Pigot, who took advantage of the late pits by Newgarden and Wickens to finish second behind Hinchcliffe, said he didn’t know what was happening when the two drivers ahead of him pitted.
“I didn’t even know what was going on, to be honest,” Pigot said. “I just saw people driving off in front of me. I thought they were guys who were a lap down. I thought I saw Josef’s car, and I was a little confused for a second. When I crossed the line, I didn’t really know where I was.”
Hinchcliffe, who scored his second victory at Iowa Speedway and first victory since Long Beach in April 2017, said his crew debated a late pit stop but decided against it.
“It’s a shame that Robby ended up taking that pit at the end of the race,” Hinchcliffe said. “It would’ve been great to have both of us going into (the next race at) Toronto with podium finishes.”
Wickens joined SPM during the offseason after six wins in six seasons in the prestigious Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters touring series in Europe. He hadn’t done a lap at Iowa Speedway before a test session late last month, then called it “the most foreign track I've ever driven in my entire life.”
Truth be told, he’s a quick learner of the short-oval game. In April, he finished second at ISM Raceway, the mile oval near Phoenix.
“In hindsight, P5 is still strong,” Wickens said of his effort at Iowa. “You saw how many people couldn’t keep on the lead lap. The fact that we came out of it fifth is great, but the underlying thing is that we missed out on literally a for-sure podium.”
Wickens and Hinchcliffe head to their hometown race this week, the Honda Indy Toronto. Practice on the 11-turn, 1-786-mile temporary street course begins Friday with a pair of sessions starting at 10:40 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET. A third practice is set for 9:50 a.m. Saturday. All practices stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying begins at 1:55 p.m. Saturday and streams on the same locations, with a same-day telecast at 5 p.m. on NBCSN. Live coverage of Sunday’s 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.